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    United Kingdom History
    Expansion And Empire
    Source: U.S. Department of State


        Queen Elizabeth I

        The period under the rule of Elizabeth I (1533–1603) saw the beginnings of the English Renaissance, with the works of William Shakespeare, and the start of English expansion and empire.

        Britain's policy of active involvement in continental European affairs, which was initially intended to support William the Conqueror's (c. 1029-1087) holdings in France, endured for several hundred years. By the end of the 14th century, foreign trade, originally based on wool exports to Europe, had emerged as a cornerstone of national policy.

        The foundations of sea power were gradually laid to protect English trade and open up new routes. Defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 firmly established England as a major sea power. Thereafter, its interests outside Europe grew steadily.

        Attracted by the spice trade, English mercantile interests spread first to the Far East. In search of an alternate route to the Spice Islands, John Cabot reached the North American continent in 1498. Sir Walter Raleigh organized the first, short-lived colony in Virginia in 1584, and permanent English settlement began in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia. During the next two centuries, Britain extended its influence abroad and consolidated its political development at home.

        While maintaining separate parliaments, England and Scotland were ruled under one crown beginning in 1603, when James VI of Scotland succeeded his cousin Elizabeth I as James I of England. In the ensuing 100 years, strong religious and political differences divided the kingdoms. Finally, in 1707, England and Scotland were unified as Great Britain, sharing a single Parliament at Westminster.

        The Stuart dynasty was founded by James I (1566–1625), uniting the crowns of England and Scotland in 1603. The English Civil War (1642–49) culminated in the execution of Charles I and the proclamation of the Commonwealth (later the Protectorate) under Oliver Cromwell.

        The monarchy was restored with Charles II in 1660. In the bloodless Glorious Revolution (1688), James II fled before a Protestant army under the Dutch William of Orange, who married and ruled jointly with James's daughter Mary II. The English Bill of Rights (1689) established the supremacy of Parliament and made the government a model of constitutional monarchy.

        In an effort by Stuart claimants to the throne, Irish supporters of James II were defeated at the Battle of the Boyne (1690), temporarily crushing Irish resistance to annexation by England.

        The Act of Union (1707) created the United Kingdom with Scotland joining England in a common Parliament . A Scottish uprising led by the Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, was crushed at Culloden Moor in 1745. In 1801 Ireland was made part of the United Kingdom.

        In the eighteenth century the United Kingdom became the greatest sea power in the world, controlling an empire that included much of North America and India. Agrarian “enclosures” of the 18th century ruined the peasantry but created an entrepreneurial revolution in agriculture that ultimately led to greatly increased agricultural productivity. The capital created in the process contributed to the success of the Industrial Revolution, which over the next century made England the wealthiest land on earth.

        The American Revolution (1775–83) resulted in the loss of the 13 colonies, but the British consolidated their hold on the India, Australia, New Zealand, Malaya, Hong Kong, much of eastern Africa from “Cape to Cairo,” and elsewhere. Britain's prosperity and moral purpose were embodied in the person of Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland (1836–1901) and Empress of India (from 1836).

      NOTE: Parts of the information regarding the United Kingdom on this page is re-published from U.S. Department of State. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of United Kingdom History information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about United Kingdom History should be addressed to the webmaster.

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    Revised 14-Oct-05
    Copyright © 2005 Photius Coutsoukis (all rights reserved)